After four years of riding off-road at McAllister Park in north central San Antonio, it feels like an old friend, and it’s always gratifying seeing friends change for the better. 

McAllister Park was the first place I rode after moving to San Antonio from Pennsylvania in 2015, and will always feel like the center of my mountain bike life here. I remember marveling then at the low-slung, twisting live oak branches that sometimes form perfect keyholes over the trail. At the time, I had never seen trees like that. 

Since then, navigating McAllister Park has gotten much easier. South Texas Off-Road Mountain Bikers, with funding from REI, have installed new trail signs at the crucial crossings. Aside from being useful markers, they’re signs of progress in San Antonio’s growing mountain bike scene. During the summer, serious riders hold time trial races on the property. 

On Monday, I set out to ride as much of the park’s entire trail network as I could. I typically park near the entrance off Jones Maltsberger Road. I’ve always chuckled at the name of the street leading out of the park’s entrance: Money Tree.

During that 16-mile ride, I made it through all of the Blue Loop, Red Trail, and Mud Creek trail segments listed on the City’s trail map. In reality, the park has many more branches and connectors winding through the trees and savannah. 

As I rode, I was again reminded of the remarkable diversity of terrain crammed into the nearly 1,000-acre park. All in one ride, you can experience San Antonio’s creekside riparian forest, mesquite and prickly pear savannah, and Ashe juniper and live oak woods. 

McAllister is more beginner-friendly than other local riding spots, such as the Leon Creek Greenway or Government Canyon State Natural Area. Most of the park has gentle elevation grades, just enough to let you gain some speed along fast, flowy curves. 

But expert riders will find a few spots with obstacles at their level. One is Caliche Hill, an eroded embankment of rock that can turn deadly slick in the rain. Red Trail also offers places to take a roughly 3-foot drop into a pump track with jumps.

The dense vegetation along most of the trails means that riders are constantly turning blind corners. The Trailist recommends giving a shout or some other noise so oncoming riders can hear you. Also, be careful of trail runners and hikers. 

An armadillo prepares to cross the Blue Loop at McAllister Park.
An armadillo prepares to cross the Blue Loop at McAllister Park.

Chances are you’ll also have some close white-tailed deer encounters, with hordes of the cloven-hoofed creatures making their way through the park every day. I also stumble on plenty of armadillos along the trail. I appreciate the chance to see them alive and not flattened on a road somewhere. 

Your ride can take you along such interesting features as the San Antonio River Authority dam meant to protect downstream neighborhoods from Salado Creek flooding. The Red Trail also passes a water trough set out for wildlife that you can watch from behind a viewing blind.

Even with the new trail markers, getting lost is still pretty easy. But that’s OK at McAllister. At this park, you can be free to explore, yet contained, and able to get close to nature, while never being far from the city. 

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.